Epidemiological data from several European countries suggested an increased risk of the chronic sleep disorder narcolepsy following vaccination with Pandemrix(™), an AS03-adjuvanted, pandemic A(H1N1)pdm09 influenza vaccine. Further research to investigate potential associations between Pandemrix™ vaccination, A(H1N1)pdm09 influenza infection and narcolepsy is required. Narcolepsy is most commonly caused by a reduction or absence of hypocretin produced by hypocretin-secreting neurons in the hypothalamus, and is tightly associated with HLA-II DQB1*06:02. Consequently, research focusing on CD4(+) T-cell responses, building on the hypothesis that for disease development, T cells specific for antigen(s) from hypocretin neurons must be activated or reactivated, is considered essential. Therefore, the following key areas of research can be identified, (1) characterization of hypothetical narcolepsy-specific auto-immune CD4(+) T cells, (2) mapping epitopes of such T cells, and (3) evaluating potential mechanisms that would enable such cells to gain access to the hypothalamus. Addressing these questions could further our understanding of the potential links between narcolepsy and A(H1N1)pdm09 vaccination and/or infection. Of particular interest is that any evidence of a mimicry-based mechanism could also explain the association between narcolepsy and A(H1N1)pdm09 influenza infection.
Keywords: A(H1N1)pdm09 influenza; CD4+ T cell; Pandemrix; hypocretin; narcolepsy; pandemic; vaccine.